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Amidst the turmoil in Detroit that involves a possible revolt amongst the players against embattled head coach John Kuester, the Pistons defeated the Utah Jazz on Saturday. While the Jazz certainly have their own issues while trying to fit the newly acquired Devin Harris into the shoes of the NBA’s third best point guard Deron Williams, the Pistons grinded out a 120-116 victory behind a huge game from Rodney Stuckey.
This game caused me to think for a bit about what the Pistons would be like this season had the players manned up and played for their head coach despite his shortcomings. The Pistons are just six games out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference right now and though there is little to no chance of them getting to the post-season now, there was definitely a point in the season, before the Sixers went on their run and the Pacers made their coaching switch, when the Pistons had a shot at breaking into the playoff picture.
But instead, the players have rebelled against the coach and there are some nights when the team just doesn’t show up to compete on some nights. Tayshaun Prince reportedly had a blow up with Kuester last season which has affected his mindset going into games and Richard Hamilton hasn’t had consistent playing time all year because of his actions in the lockerroom. Though recent reports out of Detroit say that Hamilton and Kuester are getting along better, Hamilton still wasted away half of the season on the bench. Had he been on the floor with the Pistons, there chances at sneaking into the playoffs definitely would have improved.
So, what can the Detroit Pistons take away from this season which seems all but lost with just 21 regular season games left? The Pistons have a mix of youth and experience on their roster and most of the experienced players are at the root of the problem, which is good in the sense that the young talent on the team has been at least somewhat committed for the entire season.
Austin Daye, whom the Pistons selected with the 15h overall pick in 2009, is an intriguing prospect that should give Pistons fans hope going forward. The long tweener forward has played some pretty good basketball for the Pistons this season and has expanded his game in a couple of areas. His range has been extended this season and he’s now a capable three-point shooter. With this aspect being added to his arsenal, I consider Daye to be Kevin Durant-lite. He’s six-foot-11, long, lanky and as skinny as a pole. He’s a small forward despite his advanced height for the position and he’s primarily a shooter. Durant is obviously the better player between the two because he’s a bit better on the drive and he’s able to produce more frequently with his jumpshot but Daye has a much better three-point shooting percentage than Durant and he’s a better shooter from 16-23 feet as well.
Daye is a nice piece for the Pistons to be around. He seems to be a rather humble young kid and he’s got the tools to become a 20 points per game scorer in this league. His defense needs to get a lot better because right now he’s getting bullied around and taken off the dribble on that end of the floor. Daye’s length makes him a decent shot blocker but he’s just not a smart player on that end of the floor and he’ll need to adjust to the game on that side of the ball quickly to get more than the 19 minutes per game that he is receiving right now.
Once he starts to defend a bit better, those scoring attributes that he possesses will be a pretty nice asset for the Pistons on the offensive end of the floor.
If Daye doesn’t pan out – which is unlikely, I just think it will take some time for him to adjust defensively because of his small frame – the Pistons have another forward that they drafted back in 2009, Jonas Jerebko. Jerebko tore his Achilles tendon during the pre-season and hasn’t played in any games this season though the possibility remains that Jerebko can return this season.
Jerebko is a great athlete that gives it his all on every play. For all of the advantages that Daye has over Jerebko in terms of skill, Jerebko makes up for it with hard work and pure grit. Jerebko is an excellent defensive player and had the second best rebound rate among small forwards last season. He played three positions for Detroit, mostly the two forward spots. Because of his limited offensive skills, small forward is probably the position best suited for Jerebko, which means he and Daye could be the primary back-ups for each other for many years to come.
The Pistons have another rookie, Greg Monroe, who has been one of the best youngsters in the league this season. Monroe hasn’t gotten as much burn as he should have this season but he’s become a starter of late and he’s now started in 27 of his 59 games this season. Monroe is very skilled and he’s been the most efficient rookie from the 2010 draft class in the entire league this season. Monroe’s most coveted skill coming into the NBA was his passing and he’s been excellent moving the ball for the Pistons this season.
Monroe hasn’t had much success scoring the ball for himself, which would be the next stage in development for him. He hasn’t discovered a jumper and his range extends no further than 15 feet at this point but he’s got some polish in the post.
Fourth year point guard Rodney Stuckey is in the final year of his contract and its likely that the Pistons will let him walk at the end of the season. The Pistons had enough faith in Stuckey to trade away veteran Chauncey Billups a few seasons ago but he hasn’t developed into what they had hope he would. Once thought to be the next big thing as far as defensive point guards go, Stuckey has been merely average over the past three seasons and his offensive game is stuck in-between that of a point guard and a shooting guard.
Most players, often referred to as combo guards, can make things work despite being neither a true one or two but Stuckey simply does not create for his teammates – he ranks 53rd out of 62 point guards in the NBA in assist rate – and he’s not a good enough penetrator or jumpshooter to be classified as a scorer. Stuckey was given ample time to grow into starting point guard material with the Pistons but he simply hasn’t matured enough to justify a contract offer. The next step in his career is likely to become a back-up guard and the Pistons have little need for that without already having a starting backcourt in place.
Stuckey doesn’t do a whole lot more than his back-up Will Bynum does at this point and the Pistons have already locked Bynum into a three year deal at a relatively cheap price. Ironically, Bynum is the better defensive player between he and Stuckey and his offense is just as good if not better. Bynum is much smaller than the six-foot-five Stuckey but he uses his frame well to get leverage on his man and he’s allowed just .845 points per possession on the season according to Synergy Sports Technology.
Bynum is a decent pick and roll player because he can hit the mid-range jumpshot (45% on 16-23 footers this season), attack the basket (take a look at some of the little guy’s flashy finishes) and is a good passer. Bynum outranks the likes of Russell Westbrook, Chauncey Billups, Stephen Curry and Derrick Rose when it comes to assist rate. He’s not the ideal fit for any team as a starting point guard, which means the Pistons would be better off finding themselves another point guard to replace Stuckey this off-season, but as far as back-ups go, Bynum is a pretty complete package because he can score, dish and even defend a bit.
The Pistons aren’t loaded with young talent. They had a chance at the deadline to make that the case with Tayshaun Prince‘s expiring contract, Richard Hamilton, and Tracy McGrady all being pretty valuable trade pieces that the organization couldn’t cash in on – though they did try with Hamilton before he halted the talks. Contenders looking for one last piece could have used either of those players as each of them still has enough game left to help a team during a title run but Dumars just couldn’t get a deal done.
That leaves Detroit it a bad situation. Because of two huge mistakes Dumars made in the 2009 off-season, Ben Gordon and Charlie Villanueva will make over $79 million from now until 2014 while Richard Hamilton is still due $25.3 million over the next two seasons. Those bad contracts hamper Detroit’s ability to make a play on the big time free agents during the off-season, which means the front office will likely use whatever cap room they have to sign role players in attempt to make the team better. But that’s exactly what got them into the position they are in right now.
Instead of waiting on the off-season of 2010 and potentially plucking Joe Johnson away from Hawks or Rudy Gay from the Grizzlies, they spent heavily on role players in the summer of 2009 and have gotten nothing in return. And now that Detroit ended up making no deadline deals to secure some young talent or at least draft picks, the Pistons are stuck with a core group of Daye, Jerebko, Monroe and Bynum with the rest of their cap space being eaten up by Hamilton, Gordon and Villanueva.
In Daye, Jerebko, Monroe and Bynum the Pistons have some very talented young players but that’s core group isn’t good enough to make the post-season. Perhaps if Hamilton and Gordon and Villanueva started playing like they did a couple of seasons ago that group would be intriguing, but that’s unlikely based on their recent performance. The Pistons really needed to make a stand at the deadline by dealing their veteran assets for youngsters while also clearing cap space and they didn’t do it. There is a bit of a future in Detroit thanks to their young core group of four but until they completely remove the contracts of Gordon, Hamilton and Villanueva, Detroit will not have a complete ballclub that can compete in the quickly rising Eastern Conference.